Need to know
What is it? The third instalment of a cult classic adventure series
Reviewed on: Intel i5-3570K @3.40 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 970, Windows 10.
Release date: Out now
Syberia 3’s original launch was planned for June, 2010, a whopping seven years ago. It was a different, sparser, time for adventure games. In that desperate age, when there was a dearth of fantastical romps full of puzzles, Syberia 3 could have, potentially, gotten by on novelty alone. Seven years later, however, it simply feels creaky, dated and surprisingly rushed.
How do you reintroduce players to a series 13 years after the last game? Typically, the answer is a quick recap. Developer Microids bucks convention by… well, not doing anything at all. Syberia 3 continues Kate Walker’s adventure through Russia without even a second of exposition, necessitating, at the very least, a quick browse of Wikipedia.
The previous games were driven by the mystery of the island of Syberia, where mammoths still thrived, but that’s all behind Kate as she embarks on a considerably more aimless journey. She latches onto the plight of the Youkol, the diminutive nomads introduced in Syberia 2. They’re migrating with their huge snow ostriches, but they’ve found themselves a bit stuck, and now only a white American stranger can help them continue their ancient tradition.
Kate’s also on the run from her law firm, a private investigator they sent after her and sinister military forces, each contributing to a mess of tangled threads that never transform into anything cohesive, hanging on a largely dull story that frequently makes no sense.
Joining the ex-lawyer are an assortment of tropes masquerading as humans. Evil hypnotists, a curmudgeonly inventor, a drunk ship captain, a whole race of, ugh, noble savages—everyone in Syberia 3 feels like they were bought from a factory of prefabricated NPCs, testing the limits of triteness. And while writing can elevate even the dullest of cliches, here it merely exacerbates the problem.
Blaming translation issues—Microids is a French studio—would be generous. Nobody in Syberia 3 even comes close to talking like a human being, speeding through their lines without any thought given to tone or pacing, their lips flapping away like broken machines. Every sentence is a new disaster, full of absolutely bizarre word choices, appalling delivery and occasionally even wrong information. The aforementioned drunk captain, for instance, keeps calling the deck of his ship the bridge, which creates a rather big problem when you’re attempting to follow his directions.
It’s a particular shame because Syberia 3 actually tries to do some interesting things with dialogue, allowing players to choose Kate’s tone, sometimes, or pick options to manipulate characters. It’s a little like Telltale’s system, but it’s not a direct copy and even builds on it, revealing Kate’s inner-monologue as she grapples with the choices she can potentially make.
The move to 3D has done the game no favours. Gone are the gorgeous pre-rendered scenes of the previous games, replaced with plain, often downright ugly, three-dimensional environments. Much of the game is spent sauntering around a vaguely medieval village dominated by a non-descript dock and an equally forgettable ferry—wonders are few and far between. Things do admittedly pick up once Kate hits Baranour, an abandoned amusement park that evokes Pripyat’s haunting fairground, but even that ruin misses the mark, never quite reaching the heights of striking Aralbad or the imposing Romansburg monastery.
Navigating these environments is also a terrible chore. Regardless of whether you use mouse and keyboard or, as recommended, a controller, Kate moves like a tank through mud, her poorly animated body struggling to even walk up stairs, and that’s when the camera isn’t doing it’s best to obscure everything.
These issues even get in the way of the one bright spot in this otherwise dreary adventure: puzzles. Most of them involve tinkering with satisfyingly mechanical and mostly logical conundrums, all gears and levers and enigmatic buttons. A hint of physics enhances their tactile nature, making them feel all the more tangible and even slightly playful. But trying to select hot spots, particularly with a controller, is a miserable experience, making even the most simple brain teasers lessons in frustration.
It’s the bugs that really threaten the puzzles, however. In one head-scratcher, taking too long made half of the buttons on my controller stop working. I had to reload the game three times to an autosave from a few minutes before. In another, I was able to use an object I hadn’t even picked up to solve part of a puzzle, only to become confused when I had to then search for it to complete the rest of the task.
There are few places where Syberia 3 doesn’t get it completely wrong, and even its high points suffer from notable problems. It would have been better if the series had ended with Kate waving goodbye to Hans as he rode off on his mammoth at the end of the last game instead of this unnecessary resurrection.